JOHN FLETCHER, an English dramatic writer, the son of the preceding, is said to have been born in Northamptonshire, in 1576, while his father was dean of Peterborough, but as this does not correspond with his age at the time of his death, it is more probable he was a native of London, a person of that name and place being admitted pensioner of Bene't college, Oct. 15, 1591, when he must have been about fifteen, the usual age of admission in those days. He was made one of the bible clerks in 1593, but, his further progress in the university cannot be traced, nor how long he remained in it. On his arrival in London he became acquainted, and wrote plays jointly with Beaumont; and Wood says that he assisted Ben Jonson in a comedy called "The Widow." After Beaumont's death, which happened in 1615, he is said to have consulted Shirley, in forming the plots of several of his plays; but which those were, we have no means of discovering. Beaumont and Fletcher, however, wrote plays in concert, though it is not known what share each bore in forming the plots, writing the scenes, &c.; and the general opinion is, that Beaumont's judgment was usually employed in correcting and retrenching the superfluities of Fletcher's wit. Yet, if Winstanley may be credited, the former had his share likewise in the drama, in forming the plots, and writing the scenes: for that author relates, that these poets meeting once at a tavern, in order to form the rude draught of a tragedy, Fletcher undertook to kill the king; and that his words being overheard by a waiter, they were seized and charged with high treason: till the mistake soon appearing, and that the plot was only against a theatrical king, the affair ended in mirth. Some farther, and perhaps preferable, remarks on their respective shares may be seen in our account of Beaumont (vol. iv.) Fletcher survived Beaumont some years, but died of the plague at London in 1625, and was interred in St. Mary Overy's church in Southwark. Sir Aston Cockaine among his poems has an epitaph on Fletcher and Massinger, who, he tells us, he both buried there in one grave; though Wood informs us, from the parish-register there, that Massinger was buried, not in the church, but in one of the four yards belonging to it. For a judgment upon this author, Edward Philips observes, that "he was one of the happy triumvirate of the chief dramatic poets of our nation in the last foregoing age, among whom there might be said to be a symmetry of perfection, while each excelled in his peculiar way: Ben Jonson in his elaborate pains and knowledge of authors; Shakspeare in his pure vein of wit and natural poetic height; and Fletcher in a courtly elegance and genteel familiarity of style, and withal a wit and invention so overflowing, that the luxuriant branches thereof were frequently thought convenient to be lopped off by his almost inseparable companion Francis Beaumont." Dryden tells its, that Beaumont and Fletcher's plays in his time were the most pleasing and frequent entertainments, two of theirs being acted through the year for one of Shakspeare's or Jonson's; and the reason he assigns is, because there is a certain gaiety in their comedies, and a pathos in their most serious plays, which suits generally with all men's humours. The case, however, is now reversed, for Beaumont and Fletcher are not acted above once for fifty times that the plays of Shakspeare are represented. Their merit, however, is undoubted; and though it could not avert the censure of the cynical Rymer, has been acknowledged by our greatest poets. Their dramas are full of fancy and variety, interspersed with beautiful passages of genuine poetry; but there is not the nice discrimination of character, nor the strict adherence to nature, that we justly admire in Shakspeare.
Some of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays were printed in 4to, during the lives of their authors; and in 1645, twenty years after Fletcher's death, there was published a folio collection of them. Another edition was published in 1711, in seven volumes, 8vo. Another in 1751, in ten volumes, 8vo. Another by Colman, also in ten volumes, in 1778.